Kurt Kara knows better than most that life is about the journey, not the destination.

It may be a cliché, but he knows it to be true.

Kara is not a name many people will recognise. It's likely you've never heard of him.

But the 28-year-old from Hamilton has followed his sporting dream - of playing in the top level of the NRL - and has had a sporting career that has hit higher highs than most.

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Kurt Kara of the Newtown Jets passes the ball during the round 19 Intrust Super Premiership NSW match between the Wests Tigers and the Newtown Jets. Photo / Getty Images
Kurt Kara of the Newtown Jets passes the ball during the round 19 Intrust Super Premiership NSW match between the Wests Tigers and the Newtown Jets. Photo / Getty Images

Kara has played in the NSW Cup - the level below NRL first grade - since 2010. He won a premiership, collected player of the year awards, set records, made thousands of tackles, hundreds of runs, persevered through injury and setbacks, toughed his way through brutal pre-season trainings and the usual ups and downs of life.

He played with and against NRL premiership winners and State of Origin and international rugby league stars.

Yet there's no easy way to say it: he fell just short of his ultimate goal.

"I was named 18th man [at NRL level] a few times, five or six times actually, in 2014, warming up with the team, seconds away from first grade alongside the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Mitchell Pearce.

"I had pre-seasons at the Roosters under Brian Smith and Trent Robinson, but never [made it to NRL level].

"At the time it was frustrating, but I'm at peace with it now," Kara told nswrl.com earlier this year.

While some would say Kara failed, it couldn't be further from the truth.

His experiences have taught him lessons that are far more important in life than they are on the sporting field.

"Sacrifice, dedication and commitment. Hard work, persisting and enduring the ride, enduring the journey," he tells the Herald.

And he's proud of what he's achieved. He's not boastful, but it's an attitude from which we could all learn.

Kara says the driving force behind him has always been his family, wife Nicole and two-year-old son Nikau.

"Since the start she's always had my back and pushed me to go harder.

"She's always been my number one supporter and just made sure I've stayed on track too, if I'm feeling down or things aren't going my way she's always been there for me," Kara said.

 Kurt Kara of the Jets is tackled during the 2012 NSW Cup Grand Final match between the Newtown Jets and the Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers at ANZ Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Kurt Kara of the Jets is tackled during the 2012 NSW Cup Grand Final match between the Newtown Jets and the Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers at ANZ Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

The Kara family intend to head back to Hamilton at the end of the year.

It was in the Waikato that he first laced up his boots. He played rugby league as "a little boy" for the Cambridge Raiders, but it wasn't he was a young adult that the ambition to play in the NRL grew.

"Our club the Cambridge Raiders had folded by the time I had got to primary school. I stopped (playing) during primary and intermediate and started back up in high school," Kara told the Herald.

"I went to school at St Johns College in Hamilton and played for a club called Turangawaewae."

Playing for both the New Zealand and New Zealand Maori under 18 teams, Kara began to make a name for himself.

He made the Warriors development squad in 2007.

"Then the under 20's Toyota Cup came along and was fortunate enough to get contracted to the Warriors for 2008-2009," he said.

"That really just kicked it off, the dream of professional rugby league," he said.

Having played alongside Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino and Elijah Taylor at the Warriors, Kara headed over the ditch and played with the Western Suburbs Magpies in the NSW Cup in 2010.

Kurt Kara breaks Dragons v Warriors at NRL Toyota Cup rugby league match. Photo / Photosport.nz
Kurt Kara breaks Dragons v Warriors at NRL Toyota Cup rugby league match. Photo / Photosport.nz

He then signed a contract with inner-Sydney club Newtown. The Jets, as they are known, are the oldest rugby league club in Sydney, a foundation member of the competition in 1908. They fell out of the top level at the end of the 1982 season and are now a feeder club for the Cronulla Sharks.

In September this year, Kara turned out for Newtown for a record 150th time - the first player to do so.

It's an achievement Kara regards as his greatest in a sporting sense.

"It's just massive. Not only in my footy career but in my life too. It shows all my sacrifice, dedication and commitment towards the game and towards the club," he said.

"The club has always been very supportive of me and treated me like family. They've always made me feel like I belong here.

"It has really grown on me and my family. They're like a family to me, the club, all the fans and members. I'm really grateful for their support and I've loved every minute of it."

Unlike the fully paid professionals on the next rung up the professional sports ladder, he's had to work while preparing to play each weekend. And juggling both full-time work as a boilermaker and playing rugby league has made life difficult at times.

"I'm a boilermaker, building steel, fabricating and welding steel together... hand rails and staircases and whatnot. I'm usually at work by 6am or 7am, it's an eight or 10-hour day at work then I'm off to training for two-and-a-half-hours," Kara told nswrl.com.

Despite becoming fully qualified, he admits was never really interested in his job.

Robbie Farah of the Wests Tigers is tackled by Kurt Kara of the Newtown Jets during the round 19 Intrust Super Premiership NSW match. Photo / Getty Images
Robbie Farah of the Wests Tigers is tackled by Kurt Kara of the Newtown Jets during the round 19 Intrust Super Premiership NSW match. Photo / Getty Images

"My work has just been there for me, I've never really wanted to achieve in this sort of job. All I knew was chasing the NRL. I'd come to work and work, then head to footy training," he said.

It's a reminder of just how tough it can be to break into the upper echelon of top level sport.

So, what's next?

Retiring from football this year, Kara is looking forward to letting his "body get back to normal," and spending time with family.

"We've actually bought a house in Hamilton, so eventually we'll go back and hopefully have a few more kids and raise them how we were raised," he says.

Kara's ambitions now are centred on getting into coaching or youth development in the sport.

"I have plans to get involved with youth coaching, helping them out. And younger talent that are also keen to try and reach a professional level of sport, especially around the Waikato. I know there is a lot of talent (there), and I can pass down my knowledge and experience that I've learnt."

"My day to day, the past six to eight years, has been tough. It's been pretty full-on, but I've enjoyed every minute of it."